Case Update: A M Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11

A M Mohamud (in substitution for Mr A Mohamud (deceased)) v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11

Significance: the UK Supreme Court held that an employer was vicariously liable for its employee’s act of causing injury to a customer under the close connection test.

Comment: this decision is significant because under previous applications of the doctrine of vicarious liability, an employer will not be held liable for an employee’s acts which were on his whim and frolic, outside the course of employment, or were unauthorised acts. In this case, the Court extended the analysis of unauthorised modes of authorised acts by the employer to an irrational physical attack as falling within the authorised act of an employee’s interactions with a customer.

In this case, the claimant went to the respondent’s petrol station to print some documents. The respondent’s employee refused the claimant’s request, responded with foul racist language and subsequently inflicted serious injuries on the claimant.

Lord Toulson explained that in applying the close connection test under the doctrine of vicarious liability, the court must:

(1) ask what function or field of activities has been entrusted by the employer to the employee (i.e. what was the nature of his job). This is to be viewed broadly: at [44];

(2) decide whether there was a sufficient connection between the position in which he was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable: at [45].

On the facts, Lord Toulson held that interacting with customers was within the field of activities assigned to the employee by the respondent. The connection between the field of activities assigned to the employee and his employment did not cease at the moment when he came out from behind the counter and followed the claimant onto the forecourt. When the employee followed the claimant to his car and told him not to come back to the petrol station, that was not something personal between them, but an order to keep away from his employer’s premises. In giving the order he was purporting to act about his employer’s business: at [47].

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